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Buying infant formula: Which is the right “stage” for my baby? “When should my baby switch to Stage 2 formula?” “Can my baby continue to consume Stage 1 formula instead of changing to Stage 2 or Stage 3?” Parents may often be puzzled when they hear others talk about infant formula stages. Actually, infant formulas that comply with the standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) can be divided into 4 stages (Stages 1 – 4). Stage 1 (infant formula) It is suitable for newborn babies until 12 months old and is intended as a substitute for breast milk. This formula is specially made to satisfy the nutritional requirements of babies without additional supplements. Stage 2 (follow-up formula) It is also known as the “big baby’s formula”. It is intended as a substitute for breast milk or infant formula. It is suitable for babies who are older than 6 months but younger than 36 months as they are starting to ingest solid foods. As they begin to ingest diverse foods, Stage 2 formula can be taken as a liquid diet component but should not be treated as the only source of nutrients. Stage 3 and Stage 4 (follow-up formulas) These are suitable for babies aged one or above for acquiring extra nutrients. It is not difficult to find out the stage of a particular infant formula as it is usually indicated on the container in a larger font size. When should my baby switch to “big baby’s formula”? Perhaps many parents are puzzled by this question. Although “big baby’s formula” is a bit different from infant formula in terms of ingredients, there is no need to switch as long as the baby has other food sources to attain adequate nutrition. When the baby is over 1 year old and has a more diversified diet, the formula will become supplementary, and parents may consider switching to cow’s milk until the baby is weaned onto solid foods. Babies between ages 1 and 2 can take whole milk as they require sufficient fats for development. For those between 2 and 5, parents may consider low-fat milk as long as they have sufficient nutrient intake from solid foods. Children above 5 may switch to skimmed milk as excessive fats and calories may increase the risks of developing obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Let’s take a look at the ingredients of infant formulas in advertisements! In the advertisements, we often hear manufacturers claiming that their products contain ingredients such as probiotics, DHA and PhD, which contribute to the development of the brain, eyesight and immune system in babies, as well as improve their bowel movements. However, are these ingredients really capable of providing sufficient nutrients and supporting babies’ normal development as claimed by the manufacturers? Probiotic Probiotics are active microorganisms that can improve the balance of intestinal microbiota. Sufficient intake of probiotics is good for health. The more representative probiotics include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus. Prebiotic It is claimed that prebiotics (also known as prebiotic fibres) can improve babies’ intestinal health. They are organic substances that cannot be digested in the human body but can stimulate probiotic growth or activity in the intestines. Prebiotics are usually oligosaccharides and soluble dietary fibres. DHA DHA, commonly associated with brain development in babies, is the abbreviation for docosahexaenoic acid, which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid (or ω-3 fatty acid or n-3 fatty acid). In our daily diet, our intake of DHA mainly comes from fish, especially oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies and sweetfish. AA Similarly, it is claimed that AA can also help in the development of the brain and nervous system. AA is the abbreviation for arachidonic acid and is a type of omega-6 fatty acid (or ω-6 fatty acid or n-6 fatty acid). Intake of AA in our daily diet mainly comes from animal fats, liver, eggs and fish. Breast milk naturally contains DHA and AA, but cow’s milk does not. Therefore, DHA and AA are additives in cow’s milk . Besides, healthy babies can produce DHA and AA from the linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid in infant formulas. Regarding the above ingredients, although there are individual studies indicating that adding these ingredients in infant formula products is beneficial to babies, more research is needed to prove their clinical efficacies and whether they should be added as essential ingredients. According to the current standards of CAC, these ingredients are not essential in infant formula products. β-Glucan It is claimed that β-Glucan can enhance babies’ immune systems. β-Glucan is a form of carbohydrates that is mainly composed of the cell walls of fungi, yeast, some bacteria and grains (such as oats and barley). However, according to current findings, there is not enough evidence to prove that β-Glucan can enhance the immune system of babies. PhD (Phospholipid) PhD is neither a pizza restaurant nor an academic degree here. It is a type of lipids that is claimed to facilitate the development of babies’ brains. Breast milk and cow’s milk naturally contain PhD. According to infant formula labels, the source of their PhD is from the added "emulsifier (soy lecithin)". Lecithin is actually a common ingredient in foods. Apart from soybeans, eggs, liver, beef and peanuts, vegetables and fruits such as cauliflowers, potatoes, oranges, and apples also contain lecithin. However, there is not enough evidence to prove that PhD is especially beneficial to babies’ intellectual development. Hydrolyzed formula Proteins are formed by linking discrete amino acids. Under normal circumstances, human bodies (including babies’) can digest and absorb proteins after ingestion. What are hydrolyzed proteins? Through hydrolysis, long-chain proteins are broken down into shorter proteins or free amino acids. It is claimed that the process helps babies to digest proteins more easily. Infant formulas containing hydrolyzed proteins are also called hydrolyzed formulas. According to the degree of hydrolysis, they can be classified as "amino acid-based formula", "extensively hydrolyzed formula" or "partially hydrolyzed formula”. The first two are also known as "hypoallergenic infant formula". "Extensively hydrolyzed formula" is generally used as a therapeutic formula for babies who cannot digest protein in cow's milk or are allergic to it. However, there is still not enough evidence to prove that "partially hydrolyzed formula" specifically improves babies’ digestion, absorption and immunity. In conclusion, according to the standards of CAC and expert opinions, the above-mentioned ingredients are not essential ingredients for infant formulas. Basically, the ingredients of infant formulas are similar across brands, so parents should not be overly concerned and influenced by the product claims and promotions. Instead, parents should check the product labels and consider factors such as their actual need and the supply of products. What can product labels tell you? 1. Food label and ingredient list You can check the ingredients such as lactose, vegetable oil and skimmed milk powder emulsifier, etc. in infant formulas to find out if they contain possible allergens for babies. 2. Nutrition information Most product labels on infant formula containers indicate the nutrients and their amounts per 100g so that parents can find out the type and proportion of nutrients that their babies ingest. In addition, the labels also indicate the nutrients per 100ml so that parents can check whether their babies’ daily intake of nutrients is above or below the standard. 3. Preparation steps and recommended feeding amount Different manufacturers may use different production processes and methods, so the preparation steps and amount of infant formula to be used are also different. If the infant formula is not prepared according to the instructions, you may end up with undissolved powder or an over-diluted feed. At the same time, most infant formulas have a feeding chart which shows the recommended amount of infant formula and warm water to be used per feeding, and the number of feeding per day, according to the baby’s age (in months). It is best to feed your baby according to the recommended amount, otherwise you may end up with a feed that is too concentrated or diluted, which will lead to 2 problems: Prolonged intake of concentrated infant formula: Babies will cry due to thirst. Parents may mistakenly think that their babies are still hungry and feed them again, leading to overfeeding; Prolonged intake of over-diluted infant formula: Babies will feel hungry and cry shortly after feeding, and may suffer from malnutrition in the long run. (Note: The specific amount for each feeding depends on the needs of individual babies or the instructions of medical practitioners.) 4. Shelf life Since infant formulas do not decay very easily, consumers can tell their shelf life by referring to the “Best Before” dates printed on sealed infant formula containers. However, once opened, infant formulas can only be kept for 3-4 weeks in general (or according to the instructions on the packaging). Unsealed products that have been left for a long time should be discarded. Therefore, consumers should consider buying products in smaller sizes if the serving is small. 5. Special storage or instructions of use If a particular infant formula requires special storage methods to maintain its shelf life or requires special instructions of use, these requirements must be specified on the labels. Infant formula preparation: 7 steps to know As sterilization is not yet adopted in the existing manufacturing processes of infant formulas, it is necessary to pay extra attention to hygiene and food safety when preparing infant formulas to avoid harming babies’ developing digestive system. Let’s look at the following steps and precautions: 1. Cleaning Clean your hands and surroundings properly. After washing your hands with liquid soap and water, dry them with a piece of clean cloth or tissue paper. 2. Preparing the baby bottle Take out the sterilised baby bottle. If there is condensation inside the bottle, discard it first. 3. Measuring the amount Measure the amount of infant formula and water in the prescribed ratio as per instructions. The size of the spoon provided in the container differs across brands, therefore consumers should use the spoon provided by the original manufacturer. Besides, do not compress the powder in the spoon to avoid adding extra infant formula and making the milk too concentrated. 4. Preparing infant formula Boil tap or distilled water and allow it to cool for no more than 30 minutes. Use water of at least 70°C to prepare infant formula in order to kill any harmful bacteria in it. However, one should note that water which is too hot will destroy the vitamins in the infant formula. Also, avoid using mineral water to prepare infant formula due to its high mineral content. Remember to pour water first, and then add formula powder. Fill the spoon with the formula powder and level off with a clean knife. Do not compress the formula powder into the spoon. 5. Dissolving formula powder Put the teat , cap and other components on the baby bottle, and then gently shake or rotate the bottle to completely dissolve the formula powder. Do not shake too vigorously, lest a large amount of air may enter, causing foaming. 6. Cooling the hot milk At this point, the temperature of the milk is still not suitable for consumption. You need to put the baby bottle under running water or in cold water to cool it down to around body temperature. It should be noted that the water level must be lower than the bottle mouth and should not come into contact with the teat. You can test the temperature by dripping some milk on the inside of your wrist or using a colorimetric temperature patch. 7. Consuming immediately To prevent bacterial growth, the prepared infant formula should be consumed immediately and should not be left at room temperature for too long. It should be thrown away if not consumed within 2 hours. Once the bottle has been sucked on, bacteria from the oral cavity may contaminate the bottle and its content and therefore it should not be reheated for further consumption. If you want to store prepared infant formula, you should minimise the time it is left at room temperature. You can put the prepared infant formula in the refrigerator (but not the freezer) and store it at 4°C or below. Unconsumed infant formula that has been stored in the refrigerator for more than 24 hours should also be discarded. Things to note when feeding babies 1. Consume prepared infant formula After removing the prepared infant formula from the refrigerator, you can put the baby bottle in warm water to warm up the content. This process should be done within 15 minutes to reduce the growth of germs. Avoid heating milk in the microwave because the uneven temperature of the heated milk can cause burns to babies. Shake the bottle well before feeding. 2. Do not let babies consume infant formulas by themselves Do not raise the bottles and let babies suck the bottles by themselves due to risks of suffocation. 3. Know when the baby is full Look out for signals that the baby may be full during feeding. If the baby stops sucking, parents should not force the baby to finish the bottle. 4. Do not let the baby sleep with the bottle If the baby has fallen asleep during feeding, you should remove the bottle. Do not let the baby develop a habit of sleeping with the bottle which may increase the risks of tooth decay. Is my baby allergic to cow’s milk? If your baby shows signs of discomfort after being fed with formula containing cow’s milk proteins, it may be suffering from galactosemia or allergic to cow’s milk proteins. Babies who are allergic to cow's milk proteins may also be allergic to soya and goat milk proteins, and therefore soya or goat milk formulas are also not suitable for consumption. Parents should consult medical staff to find out whether their babies need special medical formulas. Will my baby suffer from constipation after consuming infant formulas? In fact, the protein content in infant formulas may be related to constipation. Milk proteins can be roughly divided into whey and casein. Cow’s milk contains a higher proportion of casein compared with breast milk, and its physical and chemical properties are also different. The casein in cow's milk is more difficult to digest by babies. In addition, dry and hard stools are also related to the fat content in infant formulas. The palmitic acids in infant formulas are in the Sn-1 and Sn-3 positions of triglycerides. After being released by digestive enzymes, free palmitic acids will combine with calcium in the intestines to form calcium soaps, which will lead to dry and hard stools. As calcium and iron are usually added to infant formulas, this makes babies’ stools more solid. However, since babies can consume other foods after 6 months, constipation can be eased if their diet includes enough fruits and vegetables. Breastfeeding is still the top choice Breastfeeding is actually the best option for mothers. First, there is no need to prepare infant formula and to worry about water quality and the cleanliness of utensils. Second, breast milk has all the necessary nutrients for babies, and adapts to the living environment of both the mother and the baby to meet babies’ needs. It can also improve babies’ resistance to illnesses. The palmitic acid in breast milk is at the Sn-2 position of triglycerides. After digestion, it is easily absorbed by the intestines. Therefore, breastfeeding is less likely to cause dry and hard stools. In addition, breastfeeding time is the most intimate moment between mothers and babies, which can help the development of babies’ cognitive ability and is critical for the growth of babies. Breastfeeding can also reduce the mothers’ risks of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer. The Consumer Council tested 15 pre-packaged infant formulas on the market to assess product safety and the actual nutrient content. Watch the video below to learn about the results: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM5YGwElxP0 (Chinese version only) For the detailed report, please refer to the article, “Infant Formulas Tested, 9 Models Were Found to Contain Contaminants and Carcinogens” CHOICE Magazine, Issue 526 (Chinese version only).
1. Number of sheets and size The Consumer Council (or the “Council”) found that the average number of sheets per roll from different brands was roughly between 200 – 300, which represented a difference of about 100 sheets. The total length of each roll also varied, ranging from 20m – 40m, which was a two-fold difference. 2. Net weight Since the length, width, and thickness of toilet paper from different brands are different, in addition to evaluate its value for money by length, we can also consider its net weight. The net weight of a toilet roll (i.e., after removing packing material and paper tube) on the market ranged roughly between 80g – 200g. The price of toilet paper per 100 g of net weight ranged between $1.6 – $3.6, which again represented approximately a two-fold difference. 3. Paper quality Of course, judging whether the toilet paper is of good value depend not only on its net weight, we should also consider the paper quality. Generally speaking, 4-ply paper had more strength than 3-ply paper. Most of the samples tested by the Council scored well in moisture absorption and softness. 4. 12 rolls vs. 10 rolls package size, which one is better? Even a savvy consumer may not know which package size (12 rolls vs. 10 rolls) represent better value for money. The Council had tested various samples from brands that offered both sizes and found that the average net weight and price per toilet roll were similar in both package sizes. But overall, the 12-roll size was still a better choice in terms of value for money. 5. Pick the right place to buy toilet paper Do you usually buy toilet paper from a supermarket or a pharmacy? From the Council’s investigation, it was found that the prices of toilet paper in drug stores, pharmacies or household stores were generally more stable than those in supermarkets. But the choice of brands and models might be limited. Furthermore, supermarkets tended to launch promotions on different brands and models from time to time, and typically gave discounts for bulk-buy. Therefore, consumers are advised to make comparisons between different suppliers. Spend some time to save more money! 6. Toilet doesn’t have a strong flush? Pay attention to how easy the toilet paper disintegrates! Reminder: If you tend to use more toilet paper each time, but have a weak-flushing toilet or a drain pipe that is prone to blockage, you then need to pay attention to the ease of disintegration of paper in water and disposal through sewage. The Council had conducted a test previously and put different brands of toilet paper in water which was constantly stirred. It was found that some samples did “break up “after 8 minutes, but the sizes were still quite big, and took longer time to disperse. In addition to the above indicators, the Council also found that toilet rolls that are heavier, more tightly rolled, not easy to squeeze, and have a larger diameter but a smaller tube are generally of better value. Toilet paper that has been embossed is usually loosely rolled. 7. Environmental protection can also be a consideration Consumers may also want to consider from an “environmental” perspective. Unlike other papers, toilet paper can’t be recycled. Just imagine the number and speed of trees being cut down if we only use wood pulp to make toilet paper. It is still quite rare in Hong Kong to find toilet paper that has certain recycled content. However, a few models on the market indicate that they use materials which come from plantations or forests that are certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which is a third party organization that promotes responsible management of forests. Consumers may consider these products when making purchase decisions. In addition to wood pulp, you may have seen unbleached toilet paper that is made from bamboos. Bamboos grow faster than trees and have a shorter growth cycle. The use of bamboos may lessen, to some extent, the need to cut trees. By retaining its raw color and not using bleach or whitening chemicals, these bamboo products can help in reducing pollutants during the manufacturing process and adverse impact on the environment and forests. At the same time, they can also reduce consumers ‘exposure to chemical substances. Finally, don't miss the article, “Tests on Strength, Softness and Hygiene Measures of Toilet Paper. 2 Models Scored Well”. CHOICE Magazine, Issue 499. (Chinese version only). The Consumer Council tested samples of 25 different models of toilet paper on the market to compare their strength, softness and moisture absorption properties, etc. After reading this report, you will know which model performed better!
Hand washes "Antibacterial" hand washes – the label could be misleading Nowadays more and more hand wash products claim to have “antibacterial” properties, and are deemed indispensable during the pandemic. However, do you know that the effectiveness of plain hand washes is not necessarily inferior to that of “antibacterial” ones! Proper hand-washing practices would be more important The main purposes of hand washing are to remove dirt and reduce the number of microorganisms on the skin to a safe level. An antibacterial hand wash may not achieve its said effect if the washing process is too brief, as the active ingredients have not been able to stay on the skin long enough to take effect. As we quickly rinse off these products, gone also are their antibacterial effect. As shown by the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States, recent research have indicated that hand wash products containing antibacterial ingredients have not brought additional health benefits to consumers. Some hand wash products on the market do not meet their claimed bactericidal efficacy. The Consumer Council tested 30 models of hand wash products on the market according to the European standard EN276:2009, and found out several of them had less than 35% efficacy in killing Escherichia coli (E. coli). Don't let “hand washing” become a mere ritual! Consumers may want to refer to the article “Several Models of Hand Wash Products Contained Preservatives or Contaminants that Might Induce Allergies. Bactericidal Efficacy Varied Considerably Among Products.” CHOICE Magazine, Issue 513, to find out what constitutes a good antibacterial hand wash product. Instead of the “antibacterial” label, proper hand-washing steps and practices are more crucial in achieving an effective wash. Traditional hand wash vs foaming hand wash vs soap bar Apart from its ingredients, the type or form of a hand wash product could also affect the cleaning habits and thus affecting its efficacy in removing bacteria. Some overseas studies have pointed out that as compared with a traditional hand wash, consumers generally take less time to scrub their hands when using a foam one, thus reducing the efficacy in removing bacteria. In recent years, many people have switched to traditional soap bars. But they are relatively difficult to produce rich lather. Therefore, when using soap bars, remember to wet your hands first. Consumers should also pay attention to the hygienic condition of the soap dish after use to ensure that it is dry and free of water. Otherwise, the soap dish could become a breeding ground for bacteria and microorganisms. Many hand wash products can deliver sufficient antibacterial effect. The key is to adjust our hand-washing habits according to the type of product to ensure that we have sufficient time to rub our hands and to allow the lather to perform its best function. Read on…... and find out more tips about hand washing! Hand washing triggers dermatitis? During this COVID-19 pandemic, many people complain about wrinkly hands due to frequent hand washing. Some even suffer from itchy skins and there are a number of causes for that. For example, some people may be allergic to certain ingredients of hand wash products such as preservatives, antibacterial ingredients or fragrance allergens, etc. Consumers who are perfume intolerant or suffer from fragrance sensitivity should avoid products containing cinnamal, citral, citronellol, coumarin, geraniol, hexyl cinnamal, linalool and limonene. In addition to allergies, improper practices / habits may also defect the purpose of hand washing. Applying excessive hand wash products or washing hands too frequently may strip the natural oils in our skin, causing it to dry out. Washing hands with very hot water may also cause certain damage to the skin. If the skin has cracks or is otherwise compromised, it becomes more difficult to remove pathogenic bacteria and, in some cases, may even lead to infection. Are you really sure that you know how to wash your hands properly? Hand-washing tips you need to know The simpler the action, the easier it could be overlooked! Proper hand-washing methods and procedures are more important than choosing the right product, because the incorrect use of hand wash products would not only inhibit their “antibacterial” performance, but might also lead to the above-mentioned counterproductive outcome. If clean water is not readily available, you can disinfect your hands with a hand sanitizer that has an alcohol content of at least 60%. As long you allow sufficient time and rub your hands (including areas under the nails and between the fingers) thoroughly, you could also achieve a good disinfecting result. Hand washing has become an essential part of our daily routine now. Consumers should learn the correct procedures without any delay. Now let´s take a look at the demonstration: My Hand Washing Journal – Birthday Episode. Don't forget to moisturize your hands! Is "glycerin" the magic ingredient? Over-washing could do harm to your hands, especially if you have dry skin or eczema. Hand washing could wash off the natural oils of the skin, thus destroying its natural barrier. However, if you apply a good moisturizer, you could still keep your hands supple and hydrated. How to choose among the various hand cream products? Actually, the moisturizing effect is related to the ingredient – "glycerin”. Glycerin is not only a good humectant, but also serves as a skin conditioning agent, which can absorb moisture and transfer it to the outer layer of skin (stratum corneum). It is commonly used in skin care products for the body and hands. Hand cream with glycerinas an important ingredient generally have a good moisturizing effect. However, to achieve a long-lasting moisturizing effect, hand cream should also perform the following critical function in addition to moisture replenishment. Moisture replenishment and retention work hand in hand For a long-lasting moisturizing effect, mere hydration is not enough. The reduction of moisture loss is equally important. Hand cream with good moisturizing effect can create a protective film on the skin surface to reduce the transepidermal water loss (TEWL). If the skin's natural barrier is compromised, moisture could escape, thus giving rise to a higher TEWL value. If the TEWL value drops after using a hand cream, it means that the product is effective in reducing moisture loss from the skin. The Consumer Council tested 13 models of hand cream available in Hong Kong. Some of the products showed a decrease in TEWL value of less than 5% after use, and some of them had significant improvement in reducing water loss. For more details, please refer to the article "A Must-Have For Autumn / Winter! First Ever Consumer Council´s Test – Which Hand Cream Products Represent Good Value For Money?” CHOICE Magazine, Issue 517. Use hand cream properly to achieve the best result Our smart consumers know the importance of moisturizing their hands before they become dry! After cleansing your hands and wiping them dry, applying hand cream within the critical window of a few minutes, and gently massage until it is completely absorbed. Remember not to ignore the fingers, fingertips and area between fingers. Overseas studies have estimated that on average, people use 1.7 grams of hand cream each time. However, the actual amount should depend on the skin condition, palm size, humidity, etc. Nowadays, consumers could easily wash their hands several times when they go out, they should consider bringing a small-size hand cream with them, and use it from time to time as necessary! Disinfectant cards / badges Do they live up to what their claim? During this pandemic, various forms of disinfectant lanyards (in the form of cards / badges / pens), etc. have come into the market, claiming that consumers could simply wear them or hang them on backpacks to achieve disinfecting effect. However, this seemingly easy-to-use anti-epidemic "new technology" lacks empirical support in the actual environment. Consumers should be cautious and not overly rely on these products for epidermic protection. The Consumer Council asked suppliers to provide supporting evidence regarding the claimed functions of the products. Although some suppliers responded, the majority of them were unable to prove that the products could effectively eliminate a particular virus or reduce the virus infectivity within a short period of time. Some products claimed to be able to kill 99.99% of bacteria, but the supporting data submitted by the supplier was lower than its claims. Such findings also indicated a possible violation of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, (Cap 362). Is the active ingredient "chlorine dioxide" really useful? Products generally claimed to emit chlorine dioxide (CIO2) to achieve disinfection effect. To a certain extent, CIO2 does have a disinfection effect, and some countries use it to improve the odor / taste of drinking water or as a bleaching agent in paper processing. In a confined space, high concentration of CIO2 can indeed kill bacteria (or even the notorious bacillus anthracis). However, people must be vacated from the space during this application to avoid associated health risks. Coming back to these disinfectant lanyards. Although these products may be able to emit CIO2, but in reality, its concentration level is far from sufficient to achieve the said disinfection effect. Furthermore, with the following restrictions, their anti-epidemic effect could be quite doubtful. Efficacy vanishes when using outdoor? There are numerous space and time constraints The general public would expect these disinfectant lanyards to provide protection as they stroll down the streets or stay outdoors. But in reality, consumers might be disappointed. The efficacy of these products could be seriously affected by various external environmental factors. Manufacturers usually recommend using these products in less-ventilated or even confined spaces. The efficacy could be further weakened in a windy environment. Some products recommended against exposure to humidity, moisture and direct sunlight, or even outdoor usage. Although many products on the market claimed to have 99.99% disinfection efficacy, click to watch this video to understand the control environments underpinning these experiments. The experiments were mostly carried out in confined laboratory environments, and over a time frame of 2 to 24 hours+, which was very different from real-life usage. If a product needs such a long time and very confined space to achieve the so-called efficacy, would it really meet your expectation? Don’t be deceived by the “pseudo- science” if you want to get real protection. For further details, please refer to the article “Getting What You Are Paying For? 7 Myths About Disinfectant Badges.” CHOICE Magazine, Issue 525. Wearable negative ion air purifier Can air purifiers protect against bacteria? Putting on a wearable air purifier has become a craze during the COVID-19 pandemic, specially after evidence showing that the virus can transmit through aerosols. However, simply purifying the air cannot prevent nor kill bacteria. Different models of wearable negative ion air purifiers vary considerably in performance, especially in the PM2.5 test. To read the detailed evaluation report, please refer to the article “Effects of Wearable Negative Ion Air Purifiers Could Be Dubious. Possibility of Triggering Secondary Pollution.” CHOICE Magazine, Issue 527. What are PM2.5 and CADR? In addition to bacteria and viruses, various pollutants can also be “intimidating”. Consumers must have heard of PM2.5 which has become “notorious” in recent years. PM2.5 refers to tiny particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less. Due to their small size, they are capable of penetrating deep into the human lungs after being inhaled, thus giving rise to health hazards. Therefore, one of the important functions of the air purifier is to remove these small and harmful particles. When choosing an air purifier, consumers should look for its Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) for reference, which measures its purifying effectiveness and ability in removing PM2.5. The air purifying effect can easily be affected by the environment Nowadays, many air purifiers are very small in size, and can even be worn around neck. However, the effectiveness of these wearable negative ion air purifiers, whether in an indoor or outdoor environment, is doubtful. When used outdoors, the continuous emissions of pollutants such as exhaust fumes (from vehicles) and cigarette smoke, etc., could reduce the effectiveness of air purifiers. If the user is walking around, the wearable air purifier might not be able to purify the surrounding air in a timely manner. In a windy environment, the negative ions generated by a wearable air purifier might be blown away from the users, thus weakening or eliminating its purifying effect. When used indoors, such as bus / MTR compartments, shopping malls or offices, pollutants might float towards the users due to air movement. This again would weaken the purifying effect.
Rediscover "Caffeine" Why is it called "caffeine"? Coffee can reinvigorate the mind, relieve fatigue and energise the body. All these effects are brought about by "caffeine". Caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. Through stimulating the CNS, one can feel refreshed and become more focused. However, excessive intake will cause side effects such as an increase in heart rate and anxiety. In fact, caffeine is not unique to coffee. It can also be found in tea, cocoa and other plants. It is named “caffeine” as it was first discovered in coffee. After its discovery, caffeine has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. Nowadays caffeine can be found in all types of drinks, such as Coke, milk tea, lemon tea, and even some chrysanthemum tea and sports drinks, giving consumers a boost of energy after consumption. Help! I might be a little addicted... The “love affair” with caffeine has made people focus only on the good aspect, such as its refreshing effect, but ignore the potential downside that it can be addictive. But as long as you avoid excessive intake, you can still enjoy coffee with peace of mind. Health organisations around the world have yet to suggest a universal standard for appropriate intake level, but children, adolescents, and people who suffer from high blood pressure, arrhythmia, mental illness, neurological diseases, and certain liver and kidney diseases, as well as women who are breastfeeding should pay attention to their intake level. Pregnant women are advised to limit their daily caffeine intake to no more than 200-300mg. If you find yourself becoming dependent on caffeine, it may be time to cut down. Instead of stopping abruptly, you can try to gradually reduce the amount, or replace it with "decaffeinated" coffee first! Weak coffee might not contain less caffeine It is more difficult than you think to figure out the caffeine content. Want to drink coffee without consuming too much caffeine? Many people tend to avoid drinking dark, bitter coffee. However, the strength of taste does not necessarily reflect the caffeine content. Consumers should not “guesstimate” the caffeine content purely based on the taste. Food labels may not have the right information on caffeine Have you noticed that the word “caffeine” pops up on the food labels of many energy drinks, but cannot be found on coffee products? It is because under Hong Kong legislation, only non-naturally occurring ingredients need to be listed. As caffeine exists naturally in coffee, there is no need for extra disclosure. Furthermore, food and beverages sold in Hong Kong do not need to disclose their caffeine content. If you belong to the high-risk groups mentioned above, then remember to pay extra attention! A Must-have for Urban Espresso Lovers: Automatic Espresso Machines Select an espresso machine carefully to make that perfect cup of espresso Want to enjoy the indulgent aroma and taste of fresh coffee both at work and at home? Maybe it is time to invest in an espresso machine! Espresso machines have many functions nowadays, and some even have a milk frother, just like a self-contained mini café in itself! In addition to the flavour of the espresso, other deciding factors include the speed of the machine, energy efficiency, drip, etc. Espresso machines can generally be divided into 3 categories: Semi-automatic: Only ground coffee can be used. It involves a more manual process, such as grinding coffee beans, loading the portafilter, and tamping. Coffee enthusiasts could really enjoy the process given the high level of customisation and hands-on experience. Fully automatic: Coffee beans are placed into the machine, which grinds the coffee beans into powder then brews fresh espresso. This option offers a balance between convenience and enjoyment. Pod / capsule coffee machines: This type of coffee machine uses pre-packaged pods or capsules. You can enjoy a fresh cup of coffee by simply inserting the pod / capsule and pressing a button. It is the most convenient option though it does not offer much room for customisation. Putting the same beans into different espresso machines may produce vastly different results. For example, the temperature and aroma could vary a lot. No wonder the price range of espresso machines runs the gamut from below $1,000 to over $10,000. Before buying an espresso machine, you may want to read the article “Speed of Espresso Machines Could Vary by 3 Times” from CHOICE Magazine, Issue 504. The Consumer Council tested a number of popular espresso machines, which will hopefully help you to select your ideal model to make that perfect cup! “Convenience” vs “Environment” – Make the right choice today Nowadays, capsule espresso machines are becoming increasingly popular. However, at least 1 capsule is used for every cup of espresso, which is indeed not environmentally friendly. In fact, not all capsules are made of plastic — some are made of aluminium. The former cannot be recycled, but the latter can! Consumers can bring the used aluminium capsules back to the stores or to have them collected during the next delivery. If you opt for plastic capsules, then at least don’t waste the coffee grounds after use. Similar to ordinary coffee grounds, these residues have many uses (especially as a deodorizer) and can be recycled. Much like activated carbon, these coffee grounds are porous. Once dried, they can be used to absorb moisture and deodorize, and are ideal for shoe cabinets or refrigerators. If your kitchen sink and drain pipes have an unpleasant or greasy smell, instead of using chemical products, you may try sprinkling coffee grounds in the sink and rinse with running water. For more espresso machine reviews and tips, please refer to the article, “Espresso Made by Some Espresso Machines are Not Hot Enough” from CHOICE Magazine, Issue 457. Watch Out! Energy Drinks May Have a Higher Caffeine Content than Coffee! Energy drinks and sports drinks are different For those who don't like coffee but are in need of an energy boost, "energy drinks" are considered by many as good substitutes. Do you know that energy drinks are different from sports drinks, and that consuming energy drinks during physical exercise may pose health risks? Energy drinks usually contain caffeine. In some instances, a bottle of energy drink may contain more caffeine than a cup of coffee. Although they can increase alertness and augment physical performance, one must pay attention during consumption. On the other hand, sports drinks usually contain electrolytes which help replenish water and electrolytes lost during exercise, and are generally caffeine-free. Although many stores put these 2 types of drinks next to each other, they are actually very different. Sports drinks can’t boost energy. If you’re tired in the office, sports drinks will not help. On the other hand, energy drinks are not intended for consumption during exercise. It can even be counterproductive and prevent the body from performing at its best. Misconception: Energy drinks are energy boosters Don't be fooled by the name! The word "energy" does not translate to "calories" in a nutritional sense. Instead, caffeine is added for a rapid energy boost. However, caffeine cannot eliminate fatigue during exercise. Instead, it can dehydrate and hinder the body's recovery process, making the body “energy-less”. The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) recommended consumers to avoid consuming energy drinks during physical exercises to prevent people with genetic conditions from having severe adverse reactions or heart failures. In addition to caffeine, these energy drinks are often loaded with sugar. If you want to pick the right drink to boost performance, you may want to read the article “Energy Drinks Contain Caffeine and Sugar. 1 Cup of Coffee is Equivalent to 10 Sugar Cubes” from CHOICE Magazine, Issue 451.
6 different types of tofu which differ in nutrient content and taste Tofu that can be found on the local market is mainly be divided into 2 types: “Chinese” and “Japanese”, each of which can be further divided into 3 more types: Chinese tofu: Can be mainly divided into firm tofu (also known as northern tofu), soft tofu (also known as southern tofu) and also glucono delta-lactone (GDL) tofu. Firm tofu： The protein content is the highest and the moisture level is the lowest. Mainly use bittern or magnesium chloride as coagulant. It is firm in texture and rich in magnesium (which promotes bone growth, and activates enzymes to regulate hormones and gastrointestinal functions). Soft tofu： Its protein and moisture content are both medium. Mainly use calcium sulphate as coagulant. It has a softer and more delicate texture and has a higher calcium content. GDL tofu： It has the lowest protein content but the highest moisture level. It is very soft and delicate in texture. Japanese tofu： Can be mainly divided into “Momen”, “Kinugoshi” and “Jutten-Filled Silken” tofu. “Momen” and “Kinugoshi” tofu use bittern or magnesium chloride as coagulant, therefore having a higher magnesium content. Momen tofu： It has a higher protein and lower moisture content. Its texture is slightly rough and firm, and cotton cloth or mold imprints typically remain. Kinugoshi tofu： It has a lower protein content and is higher in moisture level. It has a soft and delicate texture. Jutten-filled silken tofu： It has a lower protein content and is higher in moisture level. It has a very delicate texture. This kind of silken tofu is more hygienic as coagulation takes place inside a sealed container. And the coagulation / heating process can help to reduce germs. As firm or hard tofu has less moisture content and is firmer in texture, it is normally used for grilling, frying, braising or stewing. As for soft or silken tofu, given its delicate texture and high moisture level, it’s more suitable for steaming or making salad. Tips on eating tofu Alternate the intake of tofu and meat：Tofu is rich in soy protein and contains amino acids that are missing in cereal proteins. Alternate the intake of tofu and meat can help people better absorb animal and plant-based protein.； Plant-based diet: The soybean oil in tofu is a vegetable oil and is mainly made up of unsaturated fatty acids. It also contains more phospholipids, which can effectively reduce the levels of bad cholesterol and total cholesterol. Studies have even pointed out that a diet based on plant-based foods can help prevent diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, etc., as well as in weight control. Avoid soy-only diet: Tofu is low in certain minerals such as iron (to maintain normal hematopoietic function) and zinc (which is an essential component of numerous enzymes in human body that play a vital role in growth and development, cognition, wound healing and regulating immune function, etc.,). It also contains phytic acid which may inhibit the absorption of some minerals. Therefore, vegetarians should not rely heavily on tofu or soy products for protein and other nutrients, and should eat other foods to supplement different nutrients. Watch out! The following groups of people should pay special attention when consuming tofu! People who have soy allergy: Avoid consuming tofu. People who suffer from gout: Tofu has a high purine content, so people suffering from gout should pay attention to the amount of tofu they consume, and should avoid consuming other foods that are “high in purine” such as mushrooms, fish, dried beans and internal organs at the same time. Consult a doctor or nutritionist about the right quantity to consume to avoid excessive intake. People who suffer from or have had kidney stones: It is said that tofu and spinach cannot be eaten at the same time, because tofu contains calcium and spinach has oxalic acid. Mixing the two could produce oxalate stones and form kidney stones. But in fact, only prolonged and voluminous consumption of tofu and spinach at the same time will pose this risk. However, people who are suffering from or have had kidney stones should pay attention to the amount of consumption to avoid relapses. People who suffer from breast cancer and under medical treatment: Studies have shown that the phytoestrogens in soybeans may interfere with the effectiveness of breast cancer drugs, so it is prudent to consult a doctor or nutritionist before eating tofu. How to preserve tofu If you are dealing with prepackaged tofu, then it is quite simple and straightforward. But how about non-prepackaged (or plate) tofu? Make good use of cling wrap: Tofu can absorb the smell of other foods easily, so you should first wrap the tofu with cling wrap to prevent it from absorbing the smell of other foods. Storage for 1 day – soak in clean water: If you intend to consume the tofu within the same day of purchase or by next morning, then place the tofu in a container with clean water and store it in the vegetable (or lower) compartment of the refrigerator. Storage for 2 days – soak in boiling water first and then in clean water: Wrap the tofu in a cotton cloth and soak it in boiling water for about 1 minute. Then take the tofu out and place it in cold water to prevent cracking. Change the water: Change the water daily to ensure that the tofu is clean. Check the temperature: Avoid storing tofu in the “colder” area of the refrigerator to avoid freezing and cracking. Cook and consume the tofu as soon as possible after taking it out of the refrigerator, and do not place it at room temperature for long to prevent spoilage. In addition to the above-mentioned basic knowledge on tofu, the nutrient content of tofu of the same type but different brands can differ considerably. Earlier, the Consumer Council collected 40 common prepackaged and non-prepackaged tofu samples for testing, and found that more than 70% of the tofu samples were not "low-fat" and only 2 were "high-calcium". If you want further details, please refer to the article “40 tofu samples: only 2 were “high-calcium” and only 1 in 4 could be classified as “low-fat” CHOICE Magazine, Issue 504 (for Chinese version only)".
Basic knowledge about hydraulic beds Hydraulic beds are made with 2 to 3 sets of gas springs (similar to those used in hydraulic office chairs and tailgate lift supports) and metal lifting frames which are installed under the bed boards. With the aid of the pressure tube and piston rod, you can lift the bed board and mattress with ease and access the storage space underneath. How to make your selection? The material must be sturdy: Check if the material, gas springs and wood boards are solid enough, and that the metal lifting frames are firmly secured. The gas springs should provide sufficient support: Since the mattress, bed board and bed frames are to be lifted in one go, the gas springs (hydraulic arms) must be strong enough and provide sufficient support. Consumers should check for information regarding the manufacturer, brand and load capacity (such as 1000N (~ 100 kg), 250lbs or 60kg) with respect to the gas springs when making purchase.Some mattresses are extremely heavy, and therefore will need stronger gas springs for lifting / supporting actions. On the contrary, if the mattress and the bed board are relatively light, you may find it difficult to “close” the bed if you use a heavy-duty hydraulic system. The gas springs must be securely installed: Ensure that the gas springs (which are attached to the metal lifting frames) are symmetrically and securely installed and without any obstruction, and that all screws are tightly fastened. Otherwise, the safety, ease of operation and durability of the hydraulic system and the bed might be compromised. Safety support: If the model is not fitted with self-locking gas springs, then additional support device should be installed. Pay attention to the following areas when operating a hydraulic bed: Remove items on the bed: Before operating a hydraulic bed, remove all heavy or loose items on the bed. Do not operate alone: Make sure someone is with you and can assist if things go wrong. Keep an eye on children, elderly and pets: Children and elderly are not strong enough to operate hydraulic beds, and accidents could easily happen. Pets may jump around and cause accidents too. Ensure that it is locked into the position: After lifting the bed, ensure that the gas springs are locked to prevent sliding and potential collapse. If the bed does not have additional support device, consumers can put furniture or household items (such as suitcases or chairs) on each side and the middle for support. In the event of an accident, these items could provide a good cushion. Maintain a proper posture: When you lift / close the hydraulic bed, ensure you do it in a proper posture to avoid injury. Lifting: Stand with your feet apart, bend your knees and make sure your back is straight. Hold the bed frames firmly and lift the bed. Closing: Don't just use your wrists. Use also your arms and body weight to press down the mattress. Folding tables – potential household hazards There were a number of fatalities in Hong Kong involving children and folding tables. Most of these cases happened when a folding table was turned upside down, and a young child sat on the horizontal bar of the table causing the legs to close / collapse and the child got trapped and subsequently died from strangulation. Once trapped by the table legs, it is almost impossible for a child to escape, as the legs will get tighter when the child struggles harder. How to avoid the accident According to the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance, all folding tables are required to comply with the general safety requirements, for instance safety locking devices are in place to ensure that the legs will not fold up if the table is accidentally turned over. Notwithstanding the legal requirements, consumers should still pay attention to the following matters before purchasing / using folding tables. Safety lock (a metal cross bolt with built-in spring): Consumers should not buy a folding table without a safety locking device. Choose a table that is sturdy – e.g., all screws on the legs should be securely fastened, and there should not be any loose part. After opening up the table, remember to put the safety lock in place so that the table will not close / collapse accidentally. Put it in a safe place: If you have toddlers at home who are learning to crawl or walk, they often like to climb over furniture or lean against them for balance. So, it is best to put the folded (closed) table against the wall so that it will not fall (and turn over) easily, causing harm to children. Teach your child: Teach children about the dangers of folding tables and how to use them properly. They need to learn why not to turn over the table and crawl or hide between the table legs, and why not to climb over a table or exert excessive pressure on one end causing the table to turn over, etc. Keep an eye on your child: Even if it's just a few minutes, accidents could happen. So, make sure that the children are always being supervised by adults! For further information, please refer to the articles “Hydraulic Beds Are Potential Death Traps at Home.” CHOICE Magazine, Issue 404 (Chinese version only), and “Two-Year-Old Boy Being Killed. Safety of Folding Tables Arouses Concerns Again.” CHOICE Magazine, Issue 420 (Chinese version only). Consumers could get more information about hydraulic beds and folding tables, including how to order custom-made hydraulic beds.
Widening gap between pump price and crude oil price / import price The Consumer Council has always been concerned and monitoring the impact of local auto-fuel prices on consumers. After reviewing the data over the past 7 years from 2013 to Q1 2020, we have observed the following: Average pump price vs. Brent crude oil price: the highest and lowest monthly price gap has widened by 85.2% Average pump price vs. import price: the highest and lowest monthly price gap has been increased by 107.9% In the past 7 years, the gaps between the pump price and both of Brent crude oil and import prices have widened. For example in March 2020, although Brent crude oil price and import price returned to the same price level in Q1 2016, and with the same auto-fuel tax and stable auto-fuel demand, the pump price still increased by more than HK$3 per litre. Any sign of “Quick Going Up, Slow Coming Down”? The Government has been emphasizing that it has urged oil companies to reduce their retail prices as soon as international oil prices fall. According to the data collected, we can see that from January to April 2020, oil companies had decreased auto-fuel prices for 11-13 times. During this period, international oil prices had significant fluctuation since March, and oil companies did adjust their prices more frequently than before (in total 7-9 times), the "Quick Going Up, Slow Coming Down" phenomenon did not appear to exist during this period. A clear sign of “More Going Up, Less Coming Down ” Using the data from 2013 to Q1 2020, we have compared the cumulative change in pump price and the cumulative changes in Brent crude oil price and import price over the 7-year period, and found that: Cumulative changes in pump price vs Brent crude oil price: during price drop, the reduction in pump price per litre was $2.4 “less”; and during price hike, the rise in pump price was $1.99 “more” Cumulative changes in pump price vs import price: during price drop, the reduction in pump price per litre was $0.68 “less”; and during price hike, the rise in pump price was $3.09 “more” According to the data, except for 2014, sign of “More Going Up, Less Coming Down" in pump price was observed over the 7 years. High conformity in pump price across oil companies Looking at the database again, in the past 7 years, percentage of days that all the 5 oil companies having the same pump price was generally on an upward trend and had reached a historical high of 92.3% in Q1 2020. Is auto-fuel really so expensive? Even that the international crude oil prices remain depressed and there are Government’s efforts in promoting competition, such as changing the tendering system of petrol filling station (PFS) sites in 2003 to make it easier for new entrants to scale up their operation more quickly, why then the pump prices in Hong Kong have not dropped accordingly, but instead have edged up conversely? According to the oil companies, the 2 major reasons are as follows: • Other operating costs: Import price is only one of the factors in determining the retail price. Other costs / expenses such as discounts, insurance, land costs, government rates, transportation, and inflation, etc., have yet to be reflected. Therefore, the range of pump price adjustment may not necessarily follow closely with the changes in international crude oil prices. Some companies specifically pointed out that the rise in the bid price of PFS sites in recent years has increased the operating costs of PFSs; • Lack of local oil refinery facilities: All auto-fuel products sold in Hong Kong are imported as refined products, not crude oil. Crude oil and refined products (such as unleaded gasoline and auto-fuel diesel etc.) are very much different. Therefore, changes in international crude oil prices and local auto-fuel prices may not necessarily be in tandem. But here comes the dubiety…... From public records, we observed that the bid prices of PFS sites have indeed risen considerably in the past 10+ years. However, these tender bids have been mainly won by the 2 new entrants. As such if land cost is a key cost component, the operating costs of different oil companies should, in theory, be different. That’s why one would be puzzled as to why there has been a high degree of conformity in the pump prices across different oil companies in Hong Kong…... Transparency is the key Unfortunately, due to the lack of transparency in the current auto-fuel market, the Consumer Council finds it difficult to examine if the level of gross margin is reasonable. In this connection, the Consumer Council urges the Government to increase the transparency of information disclosure, including more frequent release of import price data and price trend analysis, as well as reports on cost structure, so that consumers can better understand and monitor auto-fuel price fluctuations. Smart tips If you want to keep up with the oil (auto-fuel) price anytime and anywhere, you can use the “Oil Price Watch” website and smartphone application developed by the Consumer Council. Simply enter the estimated volume and auto-fuel type, it will help you to find out which oil company would offer better cost-saving and discounts / promotional offers, thus helping consumers in making a smart choice! For more detailed information, please refer to the report “Auto-fuel Price Monitoring Analysis 2020”, https://www.consumer.org.hk/en/advocacy/study-report/autofuel_2020
Who are more prone to mosquito bites? If you fall into one these categories, don’t be surprised that you would be the “main” target of mosquitoes among friends: people who sweat a lot; people with higher body temperature; pregnant women; and people who just finished exercising. What do these people have in common? The answer: higher body temperature and carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in exhaled breath! It is said that people with higher body temperature are more likely to attract mosquitoes. At the same time, mosquitos can use their "radars" to detect the level of CO2 in the surroundings. "Where there is CO2, there will be people"! Mosquitos infer that someone is nearby based on the increase in CO2 level and move towards the target. Therefore, when we exhale more CO2, we attract more mosquitoes. It is also said that certain body odor can attract mosquitoes, especially lactic acid or uric acid excreted by the body. Genetics, eating habits, place of residence, and surrounding environment all affect body odor. There are all kind of “hypothesis” and more research is needed. 5 common mosquito repellent ingredients - how to make a smart choice? For people who are “magnets” of mosquitos, mosquito repellents are essential to have. Listed below are the 5 most common ingredients used in mosquito repellents. Let’s learn about their differences and characteristics. DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide or diethyltoluamide): It has been widely used for many years, but its safety has been debatable. When applying products with a high concentration of DEET on children, it might lead to skin rashes, blisters, skin and mucous membrane irritation. The Department of Health, Centre for Health Protection of Hong Kong (CHP) has also advised against the use of DEET-containing insect repellents on infants under 6 months of age. At the same time, DEET can dissolve plastic materials and certain synthetic fibers! Touching items containing plastic components such as cameras, mobile phones, handbags, plastic glasses frames or clothing with hands covered with DEET may cause damages to these items. Picaridin or icaridin: Commonly found in anti-mosquito products in Europe and Australia. It is almost colorless and odorless, and is non-sticky and less irritating to the skin than DEET, and will not damage plastics and clothing made of synthetic fibers. However, it may still cause irritation to the eyes, so Health Canada has advised against the use of repellents containing such ingredients on infants under 6 months of age. Ethyl butylacetylaminoproprionate (also known as IR3535): It is also colorless and almost odorless. But it may dissolve plastic materials or certain synthetic fibers. Its mosquito repellent effect is lower than that of DEET and may cause irritation to the eyes. The U.S. relevant bodies have advised against the use of mosquito repellent products containing IR3535 on infants under 2 months of age. P-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD): Usually extracted from lemon eucalyptus or oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended only using refined OLE products because the mosquito-repellent effect of unrefined lemon eucalyptus essential oil is questionable. At the same time, PMD may cause irritation to the eyes, so PMD products are not recommended for children under the age of 3, and avoid contact with eyes. Methyl nonyl ketone (or 2-undecanone, also known as IBI-246): A relatively new mosquito repellent ingredient which is a natural substance extracted from wild-grown tomatoes. Some products may label the ingredient as wild tomato extract. Methyl nonyl ketone is almost non-toxic and can be used in cosmetics and as cat / dog repellent. Are natural ingredients absolutely safe? If you want to stay away from chemical substances and switch to natural mosquito repellent products, you should still be cautious as these “natural” ingredients are not without risks. Citronella oil: It is a natural mosquito repellent extracted from citronella grass. Its main ingredients are citronellol, citronellal and geraniol. It is classified as “Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)” in the U.S. and does not require to be registered with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). However, citronella oil may cause mild irritation to the skin, eyes and throat and cause coughing. Prolonged or frequent contact may cause skin allergy. Moreover, its strong fragrance may not be acceptable to certain individuals. The Canadian Government considers citronella oil not suitable for infants and young children. Other mixtures of natural plant-based ingredients: lemon eucalyptus oil, lemongrass oil, cedar oil, and soybean oil are some of the common ingredients. The US EPA considers these ingredients as “minimum risk pesticide” and as such registration is not required. However, low risk is not the same as being absolutely safe. Using these ingredients may still cause skin irritation. For example, citronellol contained in lemon eucalyptus oil, geraniol and limonene contained in lemongrass oil are all allergenic substances. During day time, certain plant-based ingredients may also cause allergies when exposed to ultraviolet rays. Mosquito repellent and sunscreen – which one to put on first? Some people may want to prevent mosquito bites as well as sunburn, and as such apply both mosquito repellent and sunscreen at the same time. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend using sunscreen and mosquito repellent products concurrently. Consumers should apply a sunscreen product first, and wait for about 15 to 30 minutes for it to dry and be completely absorbed by the skin before putting on any mosquito repellent product. In the article “69 Natural/Chemical-Based Mosquito Repellent Products Market Survey. Pay Attention to Ingredient Concentration and Allergens” CHOICE Magazine, Issue 524 (Chinese version only), the Consumer Council has compiled information on the ingredients and usage patterns of 69 common mosquito repellent products on the market, so that consumers can compare and choose the right mosquito repellent product.